Hear, Hear

Montreal Gazette sportswriter Dave Stubbs writes the truth about the Habs: this year's edition of the Canadiens is not doing justice to its heritage.

Time to pull up your socks or move on, boys. That jersey you wear ain't called la Sainte Flanelle for nothing.

George Gillett Jr. is not a large man, so he probably doesn?t wear a big shoe.

But it is time for the Canadiens? majority owner to take a walk through the stainless-steel doors of his team?s Bell Centre dressing room and kick some ass with his penny loafers that perfectly reflect the value of effort he?s being given.

Gillett has spoiled his team rotten. He has provided his players with every means by which to succeed, putting them in the finest hotels on the road, building them a luxurious, world-class training facility at home and treating them as members of his family, not as his employees.

The Habs continue to be in an NHL class apart when it comes to satisying every want and need of their players, and their players? families.

In return, with apologies to proud, hard-working house-leaguers, Gillett is getting house-league performance.

And he?s being insulted with juvenile, even alleged mob-linked public behaviour that?s a grotesque embarrassment to the storied history and tradition of the Canadiens, which will endure long after these jokers have departed.

It?s not often in life that you feel sorry for a man who pays more tax in a week than what the average joe earns in a year or more. But that?s the feeling I?ve had the past few weeks for Gillett.

It was the Colorado businessman who dropped $275 million eight years ago when no one else was willing to risk buying the Canadiens, then a struggling franchise in a financially fragile, lockout-bound league, and the Molson (now Bell) Centre, the club?s money-pit arena.

Gillett knew of and was eager to be educated further about the remarkable history of the Canadiens, a team 92 years of age when he took control. He understood it was the purchase of a hockey club and the caretaking of a public trust ? the Canadiens not simply the Atlanta Thrashers in an older uniform (though some nights...).

This season, after several years of vast and expensive planning, Gillett has celebrated the Canadiens? 100th season on the ice and off. Among the highlight events: Centennial Plaza, the retirement of Patrick Roy?s No. 33, and staging the NHL?s 57th All-Star Game and the league?s coming June entry draft.

Yes, Gillett has profited handsomely by marketing history with vintage jerseys, souvenirs, memorable-game CD sets, books, even Canadiens Monopoly games, in which the Get Out of Jail Free cards are suddenly precious items.

But there?s been no disguising the horrid product on the ice far too many nights.

Covering three games of a road trip through Western Canada recently was like reporting on an endless funeral ? a dismal effort in Calgary, followed by a loud, 30-minute, closed-door players meeting, yielding to an afternoon of bowling in Edmonton leading to a worse effort in that city, followed by an improbable win in Denver, then another dispirited loss in Vancouver.

The team returned home and stunningly sat mercurial Alex Kovalev for the next two games; the first was an almost encouraging shootout loss to Washington before they fell 5-4 to Pittsburgh, the Canadiens running around more frantically than the squirrels in your attic.

Kovalev returned to practice in Brossard yesterday, his banishment the biggest hockey story in this town in years. Yet it was almost relegated to a sidebar, thanks to the tale of three players? involvement with an alleged mobster.

(Filthy rich athletes scoring fine booze, fast cars and faster women from a shady hanger-on. That?s got to be a first, right?)

Gillett has scrupulously observed a tenet of business from Day One with the Canadiens ? bring in the best people and trust their judgment to run the show.

But it?s time for him to remind these players that it?s with his signature that the buck does indeed start.

It?s time for Gillett to remind these guys they?re professional athletes being paid huge sums to give 60 minutes of effort a few times a week.

That it?s time for a few players ? and they know who they are ? to behave like adults in public and make the effort to represent themselves and their team with some class. If they want to be jackasses, do so at home. But be ready to work at practice the next day.

Several years ago, a player who no longer is on the team saw Canadiens legend Dickie Moore in the team?s Bell Centre dressing room and muttered, ?Another one here to ride our coattails.?

A blindly stupid thing to say, for starters.

Besides, it would have been impossible for Moore to ride the coattails of that overrated Canadien, and others of his ilk in subsequent years, who have been naked in their disrespect for the team that pays their bloated salaries.

Failing a turnaround that must happen in days, given the hockey calendar?s waning days, the Canadiens could well miss the playoffs in the 100th season they have glorified ? 12 months after they finished first in the Eastern Conference.

This brings to mind the late John McKay, the first head coach of the NFL?s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who once was asked about the execution of his team?s sad-sack offence.

Replied McKay: ?I?m in favour of it.?

Maybe I'm old-fashioned but I'd have no problem turfing anyone who disrespected the heritage, the tradtion of the franchise - no matter how talented they may be.  By the way, working really really hard is a given and completely non-negotiable.  I can assure you it applies to anyone at Path and should apply to anyone in a Habs jersey. 



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